The sports media machine has said some rather unflattering things about LeBron James. After he and the Miami Heat lost the NBA Championship to the Dallas Mavericks last night, James has been the subject of countless articles. The overwhelming consensus is that he was afraid of the moment.
LeBron didn't air-ball a potential game winner. He didn't brick a must have free throw. He didn't turn the ball over on the Heat's last possession with the game tied. He didn't call a timeout when Miami had none left. In short, he didn't choke.
No, LeBron did something much worse. He hid.
Basketball is a rare sport that allows a player to disappear during crunch time. In baseball, if the ball is hit to an outfielder, he has to try to make a play. A pitcher has to throw the ball towards the plate. In football, a quarterback has to take the snap. Sure, a receiver could shrink from the moment and be sure not to get open, but really, how many fans or writers would call them out on it?
In basketball, a player can pass, choose not shoot, or choose not to drive. As obvious as that may seem, I struggle to find a comparison for LeBron's disappearance against the Celtics in last year's Eastern Conference Finals and the Mavericks in this year's Finals.
Maybe that's why LeBron felt he could do it. No player grows up with stories of how so and so just stood in the corner. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of players missing big shots or making stupid plays to cost their team victory.
Allow me to state the obvious: I don't know LeBron James. I don't know what he felt during the fourth quarters of the last three games. It is only at theory based on observing him on the court when I say I believe he was afraid of the moment.
Much like deciding to join forces with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, choosing to stand in the corner was the easy way out. Not acting, not taking a chance, is a extremely common human decision.
It takes effort to put yourself out there. It's a risk. It's easier not to ask a girl who's out of your league on a date. It's easier not to start a novel. It's easier not to play at open mic night.
In all three scenarios, you can always tell yourself that girl would have been in to you, that your novel would have won a Pulitzer, that an open mic performance would land you a record deal. By not doing anything, we allow ourselves to maintain our dreams.
It's the same concept with LeBron. When he watches the game tape, he can say, "If only I drove there. I could have taken that shot. I should have demanded the ball." From a talent standpoint, there is nothing James will see in the film room to make him believe he's not good enough.He can repeat the must overused crutch phrase in basketball, "I need to be more aggressive."
Unfortunately for LeBron James, he's not a guy contemplating ask a girl out, an aspiring writer, or a musician who won't play publicly. His decision or indecision is played out in front a live audience and millions of television viewers.
The cure for LeBron James is simple: someone needs to show him how his legacy is being shaped. Whether it's Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley, Dwayne Wade, or someone else, is irrelevant.
Usually, the media is dismissed by athletes as outside noise. In this case, it's noise that needs to be heard. LeBron needs to understand that by hiding in big moments, he's not saving himself embarrassment. He's being viewed as if he missed a game winner.
I imagine it would be very painful to read some of the things written about him, but it should make him stronger. I doubt that if he had actually choked the articles would be any worse. Essentially, this is as bad as it's going to get. Next time around, he might as well play as if he has nothing to lose.
A choker is someone who comes up short in a big moment. The take on LeBron is much worse: he was afraid of the moment. Right now, he's closer to Chris Webber and Karl Malone than Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. Of course, not only did he play big, his toughness is now called into question, as well.
Maybe he's already aware. I hope he takes the lesson to heart: not playing is worse than any of the epic chokes. Or maybe he is insulating himself from the noise. Maybe he and his yes-man posse is just repeating, "I gotta be more aggressive."